METALFOOD@ - Metal impurities in food additives and their contribution to dietary metal exposure in Belgium

Last updated on 31-5-2024 by Rachel Simoni
Project duration:
January 1, 2024
June 30, 2026

In short

It has been well established that heavy metals are present in food, but it’s less understood how much of these metals are present in food additives and how this can impact our health. In this study, we quantify the occurrence of lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury in food additives that are largely present in food on the Belgian market. We also determine the daily exposure to these metals due to food additive intake and verify whether this poses a risk for human health.

Project description

The Metalfood@ project has three scientific objectives: 

  1. to quantify the occurrence of lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), arsenic (As) and mercury (Hg) impurities in selected food additives,
  2. to determine the dietary exposure to these metals related to food additive intake, 
  3. to perform a risk assessment for these metals for the Belgian population.

To reach these objectives, we focus on a selection of 12 types of food additives, selected following a prioritisation scheme that will take into account:

  • their composition,
  • their related sensitivity for metal impurities,
  • their occurrence in food on the Belgian market, 
  • their consumption by the Belgian population. 

The concentration of Pb, Cd, As and Hg is determined in these food additives by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Direct Mercury Analysis.

To determine the contribution of food additives to the total dietary metal exposure in Belgium, we select food items, again based on a prioritisation scheme.
We analyse  

  • food items containing a food additive with high levels of metal impurities,
  • or multiple additives containing metal impurities, 

as individual samples, while other food items (e.g. raw commodities) are analysed as composite samples.

Finally, we evaluate the exposure to metals through the use of food additives by combining the occurrence data on metal impurities in food additives with EFSA’s food additive exposure estimates for the Belgian population, as well as by coupling metal occurrence data in food (with and without added food additives) with consumption data of the most recent Belgian food consumption survey
We determine health risks related to the dietary exposure to each of the selected metals, taking food additives into account by comparing the dietary exposure estimates with appropriate health-based guidance values or reference points.

The obtained results and knowledge will be translated into peer-reviewed and vulgarising publications and into recommendations with regard to the analytical methodology to analyse metals in food additives, amending the EU specification limits for metals in food additives, and dietary exposure of the Belgian population to the selected metals.


Associated Health Topics

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